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England await stern Melbourne examination

Four Nations - Australia v England
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne Date: Sunday, 31 October Time: 0745 GMT
Coverage: Live coverage on BBC 5 live sports extra, BBC Sport website and Sky Sports 1, highlights on BBC Two and online at 1705 GMT

England train in Melbourne
England train at AAMI Park, Melbourne ahead of Sunday's game

By Dave Woods
BBC TV and Radio 5 live rugby league commentator in Australia

Melbourne remains blissfully unaware of the Rugby League international it's about to host.

Most of the locals who have clocked an English accent in the last few days, and politely asked what has brought you to their city, raise their eyebrows and with a quizzical tone, say "the rugby league? Sunday?"

The city that prides itself on being the sporting capital of the world for once seems to be in the dark.

The AAMI Park stadium, a tidy and modern ground set in the middle of a cluster of grounds that includes the MCG, the Rod Laver Arena and the old Olympic Stadium by the banks of the Yarra River, is likely to be reasonably well populated when the match kicks off on Sunday evening, local time. But in terms of this match having a meaning beyond the rugby league cognoscenti, forget it.

Something magical may be about to happen to give not just England, but the international game as a whole a lift

It is the summer and as far the Aussies are concerned that is simply not footy season. Despite this city being home to one of the best rugby league club teams in the world in the last few years, albeit with a now tarnished reputation, Melbournians are far more in love with Aussie rules than rugby league.

But there exists a greater undeniable fact - England's (or Great Britain's) consistent failure to beat the Kangaroos over the last four decades means most Aussies have simply lost interest.

We have had our moments - Mike Gregory's heroic length-of-field gallop in Sydney in '88; Garry Schofield's magic in Melbourne in '92; Sean Long's finest international performance back in Sydney in 2006. Days of sunshine in amongst years of rain and cloud for English rugby league.

It needs more days like that, more consistently produced, to convince your average Aussie that an Australia v England match is worth walking away from the beach for an hour or two to take a look at.

They love beating up on the Poms, but when it becomes as predictable as it has been, then they just cannot be bothered to sit up and take notice when another match comes around.

Most predict that this Sunday's game will be entered into the familiar "Match Lost" column for England. But for the sake of the international game, something special needs to happen.

The timing could be right in terms of taking on the Green and Golds. Stripped of the likes of Inglis, Folau, Hayne, Hodges, Jennings and Lyon, their three-quarter line doesn't quite possess the mystic monsters of recent years.

True, in Billy Slater, Darren Lockyer and Cameron Smith they have three players with a good chance of being picked in the best ever Aussie line-up of all-time. And to say the rest of the team is handy would be a bit like suggesting Milan has some half-decent fashion outlets.

But England, too, have players the Aussies respect as high-class performers. Gareth Ellis and Sam Burgess have been strutting their stuff in the Australian NRL, and James Graham and Sam Tomkins are highly regarded.

England also have players that the Aussies know very little about. Debutants Leroy Cudjoe, Ben Harrison and Shaun Lunt all need to leave their mark.

It may be the predicted mauling in Melbourne. But, then again, something magical may be about to happen to give not just England, but the international game as a whole a lift. As eternal English optimists, and lovers of the world game, we keep our fingers crossed.

Follow me on Twitter as I cover the Four Nations for the BBC.



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see also
Trio set to make England debuts
29 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
Ellis ready for Australia battle
28 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
England lose injured star Shenton
27 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
Sky-high Kiwis plan to stay on top
26 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
Vatuvei ruled out of Four Nations
24 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
Time for an act of union?
24 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
Graham regrets slow England start
23 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
New Zealand 24-10 England
23 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
Australia 42-0 Papua New Guinea
24 Oct 10 |  Rugby League
Morley ruled out of Four Nations
17 Oct 10 |  Rugby League


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